Here's another one of John Kraljevich's Black History Month articles on Facebook. This one highlights a fascinating Seattle entrepreneur.
According to the 1920 census, there were just 2,894 African-Americans in Seattle. They were just 1% of the city's population.
It's a fair bet that they all knew Russell "Noodles" Smith.
Noodles was the guy with the Stutz Bearcat, which he sometimes like to drive down to San Diego to vacation.
Noodles was the guy that went back and forth between Portland and Seattle scouting real estate investments.
Noodles was the guy that owned just about every club within sight of 12th and Jackson in the heart of Seattle, and Noodles was the guy that could get you into a card game or put a drink in your hand, Prohibition be damned.
Noodles was the guy.
When Smith opened the Alhambra Club in 1922, it was the third nightclub in his empire. The Alhambra became the Black and Tan Club ten years later.
After Prohibition ended, the scene changed. The alcohol was no longer the attraction it used to be — everyone had it. In March 1934, Noodles opened The New Harlem Club away from his Jackson Street base of operations. The new space, closer to downtown at 1916 1/2 Fourth Avenue, was intended to be just what its name suggested: a space evocative of Harlem, with all the class and ritziness that suggested. It was only open two months, when the ultimate irony struck: after thriving through 13 years of Prohibition, Noodles' new project was closed by issues with its liquor license. The 25-cent token depicted below is from his short lived project. The space continued to be a club, though. Nirvana played there in 1989.
Noodles opened one more club in 1937, the similarly upscale Ubangi Club, which frequently featured the best acts from Los Angeles flown in for their shows. It even sponsored a semipro football team composed of moonlighting baseball stars from the Negro League Seattle American Giants. After 1940, he slowed down, focused on philanthropy and got out of the active management of his clubs. He died in 1952, but his clubs endured. Ray Charles first played the Black and Tan in 1948, at the start of two years in Seattle. Charlie Parker did too, and Quincy Jones transitioned from boy phenom to grown-up player on its stage.
Noodles got his nickname from saying that however much he staked in a craps game, he always saved enough to buy a bowl of noodles at the end of the night. Though his speakeasy jazz empire at 12th and Jackson is gone now, a man who welcomed Black, Asian, and white women and men into his clubs from the very start might be amused to see what's on his old block now. It's the heart of Seattle's Little Saigon.
To read the complete article, see:
Black History Month, 2021. Day 10.
Here are some additional posts in John's series.
To read the complete articles, see:
Black History Month, 2021. Day 7.
Black History Month, 2021. Day 8.
Black History Month, 2021. Day 9.
Black History Month, 2021. Day 11.
Black History Month, 2021. Day 12.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
1971 BLACK AMERICAN DAY MEDAL
Wayne Homren, Editor
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